The prosecution of an alleged US$102 million Hells Angels-controlled gambling ring collapsed Wednesday after an Ontario Superior Court judge stayed charges, citing unreasonable delays.
The COVID-19 pandemic contributed to the slowness of the complex, multijurisdictional case that involved vast amounts of disclosure documents, Crown prosecutors said.
In December 2019, police forces executed multiple search warrants around southern Ontario. They arrested more than 30 people, seizing weapons and millions in assets and currency.
This was the culmination of “Project Hobart,” a coordinated investigation between 14 police agencies. It involved police surveillance and infiltration of the ring, which operated multiple sports betting websites and an underground casino in Mississauga.
Project Hobart was launched after an escalation of violent crime allegedly linked to the group, including attempted murders, arson, and extortion, police said.
Prosecutors believed the gambling ring had links to the powerful ’Ndrangheta-linked Siderno organized crime group, which allegedly laundered more than C$70 million (US$53.5 million) through the province’s licensed casinos in the past few years.
One target of the investigation, Angel Michael Deabaitua-Schulde, was assassinated outside a Mississauga gym in broad daylight while he was being watched by police.
On Wednesday, three Hells Angels walked free following the collapse of the case, Craig McIlquham, Eugenio Reda, and Robert Barletta.
Barletta, a London, Ont., strip club owner, survived an assassination attempt while on bail, awaiting trial.
The trio were facing numerous charges, including the commission of offences for a criminal organization, bookmaking, firearms, money laundering and tax evasion. The case was stayed because it would have lasted an estimated 41 months. That’s almost a year longer than the maximum amount of time permitted under Canada’s constitution.
House of Cards
In January 2021, the case against two others arrested in the Project Hobart raids, cousins Raffaele Simonelli and Michael Simonelli, also collapsed. That was because the defendants had been made to wait 12 days for a bail hearing.
Meanwhile, in February 2021, the case against 15 people accused of being high-ranking members of the ’Ndrangheta was scuttled when police were accused of unlawfully accessing privileged client-lawyer communications.
Among them was Angelo Figliomeni, aka “Il Brigante” or “The Bandit,” the alleged boss of the syndicate. He arrived in Canada in 2010 from Italy, escaping a 20-year prison sentence.
The ‘Ndrangheta is now the most powerful criminal organization in Italy and possibly the world, with a presence in more than 100 countries and estimated revenues of at $50 billion to $100 billion per year.
The organization is believed to run 70 percent of the cocaine in Europe and to control much of the illegal arms trade around the world.
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